Ruth Stricker Dayton, 2019 Honorary Chinese Minnesotan of Note
Ruth Stricker Dayton comes from a family of Presbyterian ministers and grew up in the small town of Windom (current population 4,600) with a strong desire for learning and a passion for helping others. She attended Macalester College where she majored in physical education and religion. She also studied art, music and dance. These experiences laid the foundation for the extraordinary and incomparable life that she was to embark on.
Ruth began her career as a health education director at YWCA in Chicago, and soon started incorporating yoga, tai chi and Eastern healing arts into her classes in physical fitness. Along the way she found two mentors: Bonnie Prudden at the Mind/Body Institute at the University of Massachusetts, and Chungliang Al Huang, a peripatetic authority on East-West cultural synthesis.
Returning to the Twin Cities, Ruth continued to teach her unique classes in physical fitness that included yoga and taichi. She also engaged her students in earnest conversations about life, personal matters and philosophical beliefs, and found that these interactions made her teaching far more effective.
From this experience Ruth came to realize that when we move physically, it opens up our heart and soul, and that our body, mind and spirit are inseparable. Her mission in life was thus born: to pursue a holistic philosophy and a liberal arts approach to health and fitness.
Diagnosed at an early age with lupus, an immune system disorder, Ruth determined to forge ahead, firm in her convictions that a comprehensive approach to wellness that engages the mental, spiritual and emotional, as well as the physical fitness in her life, would be the best management of her condition. She carved her own path, embracing the Chinese concept of balance, the yin and the yang, that she had learnt from Chinese philosophy. She maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor, while keeping herself physically healthy, and actively engaged in being a positive contributor to those around her. Recognizing the resilient human spirit as a motivating life force, she tapped into it to triumph over the stress and adversity in her condition, and thrive. Peace, to her, is “being content with the constants in life.” She was way ahead of her time. The term integrative medicine had not even been invented then. It would be decades before the western medical community caught up with her.
Ruth’s personal philosophy has also infused everything else in her life, including her marriage to Bruce Dayton and their joint venture in creating The Marsh, a Center for Balance and Fitness.
Ruth describes her marriage to Bruce as a fairy tale romance, one that was based on mutual love and respect. Combining (in her own words) her passion for putting Eastern philosophy into context with Bruce’s discerning eye, they built the Chinese collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art into one of the largest in the United States. Ruth said, “Our marriage brought joy and pleasures of blending our different interests, abilities, passion and resources. We had fun together discovering that our happiness was based on helping others.”
Their other major joint venture was creating The Marsh, A Center for Balance and Fitness. Ruth had wanted to put her passionate convictions of integrated wellness into a revolutionary health community concept where she could make a small difference. At The Marsh, the word Balance is used as a metaphor for life: taking care of oneself and reaching out to others. Ruth likes to say that The Marsh has a wide front door: it is a public community center that is a private enterprise, and its mission is “to provide an environment and philosophy that inspires challenges, educates and supports a healthy approach to life.” It is an inclusive place for wellness – physical, mental and emotional. It combines the allopathic philosophy of western medicine with holistic or complementary practices (or integrative therapies as they are now called) such as massages and Chinese acupuncture. It is a fitness center, a spa, a rehabilitation center, a conference center, and, importantly, a gathering space that addresses life’s issues and offers support. Ruth’s innovative concept of offering complementary services around physical fitness is why, today, The Marsh is considered the premier center for integrated mind-body fitness in the U.S., and is a model in both Europe and Asia.
Throughout the decades Ruth has received numerous honors for having given generously of both her leadership and resources to multiple causes, and for her pioneering concept of exercise in healing and integrating mind, body and spirit. In 2004 she was named the Humanitarian of the Year by the International Spa Association and lauded as the “conscience of the spa industry.” She was also named a Healthy American Fitness Leader by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, and is known as the first lady of mind-body knowledge throughout the country.
Everywhere that Ruth goes she exudes a compassion and joy that is contagious. A devoted mother and grandmother, she insists that we must offer hope, and urges us to “seize the day, stake our claim, find our passion, be open to new ideas and emotionally resilient and physically healthy so we can actively engage in being a positive contributor to our community,” – an exhortation that she has both lived and walked.
The Chinese Heritage Foundation honors Ruth Stricker Dayton for her big heart, altruism, humility, infectious joy, deep compassion, generous philanthropy, positive outlook, and abiding desire to serve the greater good. We celebrate her pioneering role in incorporating the Chinese philosophy of balance into the mind-body connection and integrative medicine. She is our role model for how to lead a purposeful, all embracing and rewarding life.